Every Bassmaster Elite Series season starts with a 100-plus-way tie for first place. No momentum, no need to chase points or go big – a true opportunity for a reset. That typically makes event number one a tough one for Fantasy Fishing enthusiasts. Couple that with the fact that the tour has never been to Cherokee, and you have a recipe for disaster.
My strategy is to look to anglers from the region, but not exclusively. I want competitors on my team who are comfortable in the early season, comfortable in clear water and who are versatile enough to figure out something offbeat. I’m not picking flippers. In fact, I’m not going to pick anyone known for doing one thing and one thing only. I want versatility and anglers smart enough to bring plenty of hand warmer packs.
BUCKET A: DEFOE
Ott DeFoe is about as close to a local hammer as we have, but that’s not the reason I’m picking him. It’s because he catches fish everywhere, and is tremendous with a spinning rod. He was strong at the end of season, including a win at La Crosse, and after two years in a row where he’s stumbled out of the gate, this is the perfect opportunity to reverse that trend.
If you think that DeFoe won’t get the job done, go with Aaron Martens, who will probably pull some 1970s throwback lure out of his tackle box to get things accomplished.
BUCKET B: EHRLER
Brent Ehrler’s second Elite Series season started off much better than the first, and you can expect that trend to continue in year three. He’s one of the best on tour with his electronics and likely has experience out west with lakes that resemble Cherokee’s conditions.
If Brent’s not your westerner of choice, change one letter in the first name and go with Brett Hite, who might decide to run up a river and engage in some bladed-jig magic. He’s also talented in the clear stuff with a spinning rod.
BUCKET C: LESTER
Brandon Lester is another Tennessee stick who needs to start the year off strong. After qualifying for the 2015 and 2016 Classics, he’ll be working the Expo this year. Last year he started strong at the St. Johns and then missed the money cut in five of the next six Elite events. That needs to change if he’s going to get back to the success he experienced in his first two Elite seasons.
If that pick doesn’t excite you, go with Seth Feider, who certainly isn’t afraid of the cold and ended last season with a bang.
BUCKET D: MUELLER
Paul Mueller spends much of the time that he’s away from the tour guiding on a Connecticut multispecies fishery, using all sorts of finesse techniques that should come into play in February in Tennessee. Last year he left the season opener at the St. Johns and essentially took a goose egg to participate in the birth of his first child. No childbirth is scheduled to occur this February, so he’ll have an opportunity to start off this season much stronger.
If you’re not up for Mueller, go with Luke Clausen, who had a subpar “rookie” season and needs to start this one off well to get back to the Classic.
BUCKET E: WHEELER
Jacob Wheeler has a tremendous track record of success at every level, from the BFL All-American to the Forrest Wood Cup, and he’s a huge bargain in Bucket E. Nothing against the other “rookies,” about whom we know relatively little, but the bright lights of the tour won’t faze him in the slightest – and he’s from frosty Indiana.
If you don’t think Wheeler will get the job done, go with Stetson Blaylock, another FLW veteran with a track record of success.